Appearing on WGBH, Wellesley Professor Discusses Impact of Movie “Crazy Rich Asians”

The cast and crew of Crazy Rich Asians take a photo with a fan.
Image credit: Sonia Recchia/Getty Images
September 21, 2018

Elena Creef, professor of women’s and gender studies at Wellesley, recently talked about the success of the movie Crazy Rich Asians and whether it marked a “cultural moment” on WGBH Radio’s Under the Radar, hosted by Callie Crossley ’73.

“When I talk about cultural moments with Asian-American representation in Hollywood, I think about 25- or 26-year cycles, because we were in a moment like this once upon a time in the early ’90s when The Joy Luck Club came out,” said Creef. “And I remember really well all of the excitement and the hopes that so many people had for what they thought would be a watershed moment that never happened.”

Creef also pointed to an earlier Asian-themed movie, Flower Drum Song (1961), which generated a “watershed moment and high hopes” but did not lead to a push in Hollywood for Asian-themed movies.

But she said Crazy Rich Asians could be different: “Social media has entered the conversation and made hypervisibility a thing,” which could make this a breakthrough.

Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy adapted from a 2013 novel by Kevin Kwan that is set primarily in Singapore. It has garnered enthusiastic reviews and industry-leading box office earnings since it opened in August.

Creef pointed out that the film generated some criticism from viewers who wanted to see more aspects of Asian culture, race, and class portrayed. Crazy Rich Asians, Creef said, is largely a movie about the super-rich in Singapore and “not looking at those on the bottom, the service class.”

“When you have to wait 25 years for a Hollywood film to come out and reflect your face, your voice, your histories, everyone is invested,” said Creef. “Asian and Asian-American viewers want to see everything in this film, and no one film can represent every single social group, class, or community from Singapore to New York.”

Photo: "Crazy Rich Asians" stars, Ken Jeong, Awkwafina, and Nico Santos (right to left) take a photo with a fan in Toronto while celebrating the release of 'Crazy Rich Asians' on July 30, 2018.